February 13, 2016
We’ve reached the first polling checkpoint of GOP South Carolina Week. The news is yuugely good for Donald Trump. Two surveys, one from the Augusta Chronicle/Opinion Savvy, the other from the South Carolina House GOP Caucus.
Except for John Kasich now having a minor pulse, the results are consistent with previous polls taken in January, and even as far back as December. Ben Carson has slipped a bit, but less volatility than elsewhere.
It would seem the Iowa and New Hampshire results mostly cancelled each other out and/or reinforced what Palmetto State voters were already thinking. The new polls had very similar results, so I’m going to use them interchangeably.
Here’s where they stand:
Donald Trump (35.5%)
The clear front runner. There is no indication he’s in any danger. In January, his average result was 36%. In February it’s 35.5%. His low result in January was 32% from the Augusta Chronicle. They now have him at 36%. Trump was at 33% in December. If there’s any movement, it’s upwards.
There are no points of weakness, no areas of concentration where another candidate could harm him by beginning to split the vote.
He gets 33.8% of very conservative voters and 29.8% of very liberal voters. Those in between like him even better. He’s at 37% with men, 35% with women. Younger voters are not as strong. He’s “only” in the 28 to 30% range there.
Trump is less popular with evangelical voters. Unlike his 43% share with others, he’s only at 32.8%, almost 10 points ahead of Cruz. There are three regions in the Palmetto State, Upstate, Midlands and Low Country. The Donald ranges between 34% and 37%.
I could go on like this for a while. You get the idea. He outscores every other candidate on 95-98% of the breakdowns. The others have their areas of strength, but Trump leads them even on their turf.
For another candidate to win, or even place a close second, they’ll need to get themselves in the 28-30% range. Expecting Trump to drop much below 30% seems unlikely. With a normal candidate, you could imagine a huge gaffe or revelation, but as we know, his voters are very locked in.
Neither poll asked voters how sure of their vote they were, but if Iowa and New Hampshire are any indication, 70% are definitely with The Donald. That would give him a floor of 25% if the wheels completely came off.
The polls have a decent percentage of undecideds (6% in one 11% in the other). If you give him a normal share of these (he got most of them in New Hampshire and almost none in Iowa), Trump is a threat to reach 40%.
Ted Cruz (18%)
Aside from media expectations and what any of this means for him going forward, Ted is in shaky shape here. The reason is evangelicals. It’s not that much of an indicator of support for him. If voters are very conservative, they like Cruz. If not, meh.
Among very conservative voters, 83% are evangelicals. This combination is most likely to pick Ted. The problem is he’s only grabbing about a third right now. The group itself isn’t much more than a third of the electorate. A third of a third will send you on a path to finishing third.
Cruz is faced with two difficult choices. He can either continue to tack hard to the right, particularly on social issues, in the hopes of getting half of these voters, or he can try to bolster himself with moderately conservative voters.
He’s only pulling about 15% with them, despite a small majority being evangelical. Getting to 25% allows him to finish a strong second. It would seem he can try to bring this up, or try to run up the score with very conservative evangelicals, but not attempt both without a confused message.
Neither road seems to lead to first place. Subject to a change in his fortune during the debate, Ted is looking at an upside of 27% and a downside of 16%. In many of his ideal voting groups, Rubio is just as popular a second choice.
Marco Rubio (14%)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Rubio is in contention, in good position to finish third, a decent chance of second, with first place a real stretch. Many voters would consider him as a second choice. He lacks ownership of any one demographic group.
Even without his debate crisis, this one would still matter. With it, the impact magnifies. Somewhat conservative voters are his best group. He does slightly better with evangelicals than non. He’s balanced across age range.
In other states he did better with more educated, higher income voters. No data on that. Previously, his supporters made up their minds at the very end. His Iowa and New Hampshire poll numbers were almost identical a couple days ahead of the vote, but he wound up twice as well in Iowa.
Based on all of the above, depending on the debate and whatever happens after, he could wind up at 8% or 28% or anywhere in between.
Jeb Bush (12%)
He averaged 10% in January. If there’s any huge momentum, the data is hiding it. He is a second choice of a decent amount of voters (15%). Unlike some other states, very conservative voters are giving some support (8%). This is where the Bush Family connection likely helps.
As always, he’s stronger with moderates than somewhat conservative, better with them than very conservative. You would expect to find Rubio and Kasich as his closest competition and the data agrees.
Getting to 20% looks difficult. Even that would require strong improvement across the board or making a massive push in targeted areas, which is difficult for someone with an established brand who doesn’t have a core group strength.
If you’re looking for someone to tell you that Jeb! is a candidate who can grab a large chunk of votes with more than one or two opponents, ignore the current data and ask someone else.
John Kasich (9%)
He does not expect to win South Carolina and regularly says so when interviewed. Finishing second is a real stretch. He’s fifth in the current polls and fifth as a second choice. Very conservative voters haven’t taken to him. All of the contenders are competing for somewhat conservatives.
Unless a ton of moderates abandon Trump for Kasich, a distant third is probably the best he can do. Mind you, that would exceed expectations and give him a boost. The most hopeful sign is his improvement since January.
While all other candidates are similar to or worse off (Carson) than January, Kasich is up from 2%. It appears he’s filling the vacuum left by some of the departed candidates, even if actual support shuffled differently.
Ben Carson (5%)
Given his cadre of loyalists, this is about the worst he could have registered. Another 12% have Carson as a second choice, so spending the full week in state and having a better than normal debate performance could easily move him back to the 10-12% range.
Expecting more than that is a severe stretch. If it does happen, Cruz is struggling like crazy just to get into the 20s. Carson’s remaining voters are primarily Upstate evangelicals who are at least somewhat conservative.
If he focuses in this specific area and has some success, it makes it almost impossible for Ted to win.
Heading into the debate, nothing is out of place. The only minor surprise is Cruz needing to worry more about staying ahead of Rubio than catching Trump, at least for now.